Welcome back, boils and ghouls! October is finally upon us, and that means thirty-one days of chills and spooky thrills as I watch and review a different scary movie each day. Without any further ado, let's dive into our first movie of the season, 2009's The Haunting in Connecticut!
**Warning: This review contains some spoilers**
The film opens with a chilling montage of vintage funeral portraits interlaced with gruesome imagery of cadaver preparation and mutilation, followed by a disclaimer that what we're about to view is "based on true events," but more on that later.
Sara Campbell, played by Virginia Madsen, begins telling her story to a documentary film crew. In 1987, her son Matt (Kyle Galliner) is undergoing cancer treatment in a clinical trial. When the strain of driving him back and forth to the out-of-town hospital becomes too much on Matt, Sara and her husband Peter (Martin Donovan) decide to rent a house closer to the hospital. After an exhaustive search, Sara finds the perfect house for an incredible price. There's just one catch, the house used to be a funeral home. At first, Sara is reluctant, but after a particularly painful episode for Matt on the long drive home, she relents and rents the house.
Almost immediately, Matt begins seeing strange, often terrifying, visions inside the house, and objects seem to move on their own. Matt and Sara chalk it up to side-effects of the experimental cancer treatment, but despite this seemingly rational explanation, Matt feels himself drawn to a sealed room in the basement just off of his bedroom. One day, Matt finds the room mysteriously open, and he enters to find the mortuary's embalming room and crematorium still intact. Peter is furious when he learns about the house's past and confronts Sara. Tensions between the couple escalate as Matt's visions intensify.
At the hospital, Matt befriends a sick minister named Popescu, played by Elias Koteas, who understands the boy's plot, explaining that those who wander through the valley of the shadow of death are able to see through the veil. After a chilling discovery in the attic, Matt and his cousin Wendy research the house's past, learning that the original owner, a mortician named Aickman, and a medium named Jonah conducted seances inside the house. The teens consult Popescu, who confirms the existence of the paranormal and offers to pray for the spirits in the house.
Sara is enraged at Popescu's presence and orders him to leave, but after a particularly disturbing night in the house, she also seeks his counsel. Popescu returns, believing that Jonah, Aickman's medium is responsible for the disturbances. The reverend sets about freeing Jonah's tortured spirit from the home, but instead inadvertently unleashes something far more sinister upon the Campbell family.
Part of the film's appeal to audiences is its claim to be rooted in true events. While it is true that it is based on a real haunting case in Connecticut, that doesn't mean the haunting itself is real. The Haunting in Connecticut is based upon the claims of the Snedeker family, which were investigated by renowned demonologists Ed & Lorraine Warren. Horror author Ray Garton was tasked with chronicling the Snedekers' ordeal in his book In a Dark Place. Since the book's publication, Garton has gone on record multiple times that the alleged events were a hoax orchestrated by the Snedekers and Warrens. I highly recommend the "A Connecticut Haunting in a Keen Author's Court" episode of the popular skeptic/science podcast MonsterTalk if you're interested in Garton's take on the entire ordeal.
Well... now that we have that out of the way, how was the movie? Well, actually... I dug it. The movie doesn't exactly break any new ground, but the scares are genuine and the special effects are great. For some reason the rattling chains in the embalming room during the exorcism scene cracked me up. They just seemed like a cheap Halloween haunted house trick rather than a Hollywood effect, I guess. Normally I find jump scares to be cheap, but this film makes good use of them, often using them for blink-and-you-might-miss-it scares. Like the characters, you find yourself wondering, "Did I just see that?" The makeup and corpse effects employed during the film's climax are a bit unrealistic but still cool as hell.
While I don't want to spoil the film's climax, it's refreshing to see a haunted house film that doesn't fall back on the tired, old "built on an Indian burial ground" or "a witch lived here" tropes. My jaw dropped during the climax, and once you see it, I'm sure you'll understand why.
Let's talk about the cast. Normally I like Virginia Madsen, but I felt like she phoned this one in. Martin Donovan had some promise as Peter, but I felt he was underutilized. In one scene, you almost get a George Lutz vibe from him as he drunkenly terrorizes the family, but it's over as quickly as it started. Aside from financial stress leading to his drinking, Peter seems to be the only one unaffected by the house's power. Elias Koteas steals the show as Reverend Nicholas Popescu, in my opinion. His portrayal of the holy man is neither over the top nor heavy handed. He's easily the most likable character in the film, with the possible exception of Wendy who I also feel was underutilized.
Overall, I enjoyed it. I may not believe in the veracity of the events upon which the film is based, but that won't stop me from enjoying a good spooky flick. If you're in the mood for some macabre imagery and good jump scares, give this one a watch on Hulu. Just don't watch it in the morning like I did. Wait until the kids are in bed, and turn off the lights.